Many dog owners find themselves wondering, “Is dog ownership a right or a privilege?” To the surprise of many pet parents, our furry friends are legally considered as personal property more than life-long companions. This legal status can confuse owners, who may need to blur the line between property and companion in court.
Ownership of a dog is a privilege, not a human right. To answer if dog ownership is a right or privilege, it is important to understand what responsible ownership entails. To get the privilege of owning a dog, owners must be able to provide for their dog’s needs, including food, water, and shelter. As such, your privilege of dog ownership can be taken away if so decided by a judge. As a responsible owner, you must make the most of your privilege to ensure a healthy, mutually beneficial bond with your pet.
Is Dog Ownership a Right or a Privilege?
A human right is something that all people are born with. It is an inherent and irrevocable entitlement that is held from the moment of birth. Such rights include the human right to food, clothing, housing, medical care, and education. In contrast to these rights, humans are not born with the right or ability to own a dog. In fact, a person can be prohibited from owning any other animals if convicted of animal cruelty. Prohibiting a person from owning more animals does not violate a human right, rather, it withholds a privilege.
A privilege, on the other hand, is something that is awarded to a restricted group. There may be requirements that you have to meet to get a privilege, hence the term “restricted group.” As well as this, privileges can be taken away from a person for failure to honor an agreement, failure to follow direction, or taking unfair advantages of opportunities. Because owning a dog comes with several requirements that you should meet, the ability to responsibly own a dog is a privilege. It takes responsibility, dedication, discipline, and education to raise a dog. If one fails to provide for their dog, the privilege of owning that dog can be challenged or taken away.
Do Dogs Have Rights?
While dogs are not in the Bill of Rights, they do have rights to some degree under American laws. The Animal Welfare Act is the primary federal law that governs the keeping of companion animals. Signed into law in 1966, the AWA sets requirements for the treatment of animals in research, transport, exhibition, and dealership. However, animal welfare laws vary between states. Consequently, so do a dog’s “rights.”
For example, California Penal Code 597 PC defines what the state considers animal abuse. This law protects domesticated, stray, wild, and farmed animals from intentional injury. It also covers leaving dogs in a house without food, throwing dogs into traffic, and forcing dogs to remain outdoors in extreme temperatures. So, under this law, dogs have the right to protection from injury, extreme temperature, and starvation.
In contrast, there are some states with weak welfare laws that provide dogs with few, if any, rights. Amongst the weakest states are Kentucky, Iowa, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming. In fact, Kentucky has the weakest animal welfare laws of all states. While it is illegal to mistreat a dog in Kentucky, mistreatment must be cruel or cause injury to the dog to be criminal. Kentucky is also the only state to prohibit a veterinarian from reporting animal abuse. So, while a dog, in theory, has the legal right to be protected from harm, this “right” only reaches so far. Violating a dog’s “right” to protection from harm, in some cases, only counts as a misdemeanor, rather than a violation of the animal’s rights.
Do You Own Your Dog As Per Law?
Unlike our other family members, dogs are legally items of personal property in the USA. This means that dogs are legally owned by humans. As such, a dog’s owners may do what they wish with them, as long as certain needs are met. There are rules in place, such as those under the Animal Welfare Act, to protect the pets that we own. These rules blur the line between animal and person, especially in the case of cats and dogs. So, while you do legally own your dog, your ownership is a privilege that can be challenged or taken away if you fail to meet your dog’s needs.
There are times where the line between personal property and sentient animal are blurred in legal disputes. For example, a judge may talk about what is best for a dog in divorce cases, which would not be done for any other item of property. Also, restraining orders can be made to protect both owners and their pets. As well as this, if a dog suffers intentional harm or death, an owner may sue for the mental suffering and loss of companionship that comes as a result. If a person intentionally harms or kills a companion dog, it should be known to the actor that there is a person connected to the animal. This case could result in a claim of loss of consortium. Loss of consortium is a claim that traditionally applies to the loss of a spouse, child, or sibling, depending on the jurisdiction.
What is Responsible Dog Ownership?
The Americal Medical Veterinary Association sets out guidelines for responsible pet ownership. According to the AMVA, responsible pet ownership should result in a mutually beneficial relationship. So what constitutes responsible pet ownership? And how does this tie in with whether dog ownership is a right or privilege?
Health and Welfare
First and foremost, responsible pet ownership includes committing to the responsibility of providing for your dog’s welfare and needs. The ownership of your dog requires investments of time and money. These amounts of which can be substantial over your dog’s lifetime. You must protect your pet from disease, injury, suffering, and pain using your time and money. To do this, it is responsible to register with a veterinary practice. With this veterinary practice, it is also responsible to microchip your pet and to keep these details up to date. You must also keep your pet’s vaccines up to date. Depending on where you live, it may be a legal requirement to vaccinate your dog against rabies.
Dogs who spend a lot of time outdoors must have a habitat that protects their health, safety, and welfare. This includes providing food, water, and shelter from extreme temperatures.
Finally, it is responsible to recognize when your pet’s health is declining. You should make decisions in consultation with your vet about your pet’s end-of-life care, whether it be palliative care or euthanasia. If you are unable to afford extensive treatments for your pet, it is responsible to ask your vet about the financial options that are open to you. Your vet may propose a payment plan that works with your income.
Lifestyle and Training
To meet these welfare needs, it is important to carefully select a pet that is suitable for your home, lifestyle, and family. Obtaining a breed that is not suitable for your lifestyle can lead to anxiety and depression for a dog. This ties in with the responsibility of socializing your pet. You should make efforts to socialize and train your pet to facilitate their well-being along with the well-being of others. It would be irresponsible to get a breed that requires intensive training and exercise when your lifestyle cannot accommodate such needs.
It is important to acquire your dog responsibly. Not only should you get your dog from a reputable source, but you should also make sure to only take on the number of pets that you can manage. In line with this, it is your responsibility to manage how your dog contributes to overpopulation. If you choose to breed your dog, it is important to do so responsibly and ethically. If you do not intend to breed your dog, it is important to spay or neuter them to prevent unwanted pregnancies.
Did we answer the question, “Is dog ownership a right or a privilege?” If not, let’s recap. Owning a dog is a privilege, not a human right. A privilege is something that is given to a restricted group. If one fails to meet the requirements of this privilege, it can be taken away. However, dogs are legally personal property, and the line between companion and object can become unclear in the eyes of the law.